Tuesday - When you ask for prayer sometimes it is not plainly obvious how those prayers are answered. As we left Terre Haute we had two concerns: weather and maintenance. One of the planes had a couple intermittent annoying glitches that if we were to have them fixed, would involve hours of troubleshooting and possible delays for parts. But as we headed West from Abilene Tuesday morning there was no sign of either threatening weather or maintenance problems. Praise God!
The 3 hour flight to El Paso went quickly and the 4 hour flight from El Paso to San Diego was 30 minutes longer due to strong headwinds. All planes were safely tied down by 3pm in San Diego and 9 tired pilots and one Advisor relaxed with a well-deserved “home-cooked” meal provided by my wife Jean Marie to draw the SAFECON 2010 adventure to a close.
Monday - We left Metropolis at 0630 CDT this morning and headed for El Paso TX, knowing there were storms and strong headwinds in our path. Our first stop was in Idabell Oklahoma for fuel. The storms started popping up on the radar between Abilene and Midland TX so we stopped short of Abilene to check weather and make a new plan.
Some of you know that Mat Belden is a big fan of Dr. Pepper and some have said that his diet consists mostly of Dr. Pepper. So when it appeared our flight path would take us near Dublin TX – home of Dr. Pepper – Mat decided to fly down and buy a case. He and Titus got a tour of the factory and met us in Breckenridge about 50 miles east of Abilene. We decided it would not be possible to fly through a line of developing storms near Midland-Odessa. So we changed plans to spend the night in Abilene.
We noticed a P-51 Mustang in a large warbird restoration hangar so we stuck our noses in and beheld a most majestic sight. They were restoring a 2 P-51’s, a B-25 Mitchell, an F4U Corsair and various other authentic warbirds. Kyle Mayhugh was invited to sit in the cockpit of a beautiful polished Mustang. We wondered - if we showed up at NIFA SAFECON next year in a shiny P-51 Mustang – would we even have to compete? Or – they should just give us first place?
Then the dreaming ended and we jumped in our planes and flew 50 miles through strong headwinds to tie our planes down in Abilene for the night. Hopefully the storms will abate and we will be able to get home tomorrow. Even though we stopped short, it has been a long day and everyone is tired and hungry. The heat and humidity here makes us all long for the cool, dry air of San Diego. Please pray for a break in the weather as we plan to depart early Tuesday morning for Gillespie Field.
Sunday - Today the team flew to Metropolis to rest and relax at Mathew Belden’s home. They spent the day riding Quads and fighting off chiggers. I was able to take Frank and Lyn Cunning and their daughter, from the First Baptist Church of North Terre Haute, for a short flight before flying to Metropolis. We tried to think of a way to thank them for their generosity and as it turned out, the one thing we could offer was the most treasured thing of all – a ride in an airplane! Lyn was thrilled –it was her first time - and we were pleased we could do something in return for all they did for our team this week.
I drove Kyle Loenhorst and Paul Martin to Indianapolis then flew down and joined the rest of the team at the Belden home later in the afternoon. After dinner we spent several hours flight planning then went to bed in anticipation of an 0500 wake up.
Saturday – Awards Day. The final day of NIFA SAFECON is for finishing any incomplete events and for the Awards Ceremony. With all the rain delays, the judges decided to try to get two more rounds of Message Drop in before the cut off at noon. It’s a good thing they did...
The weather was perfect. Titus and David flew first, and Paul Martin and Aaron Varela flew second. Then we took the afternoon off to get ready for the banquet. Everyone looked great. Clayton Hawley even wore a tuxedo, and Mathew Belden sported a very unique “dinner jacket”. But underneath we knew he was wearing his Superman cape...
Last year SDCC competed but scored no major points. Our goal for this year was “incremental improvement over last year.” As the winners were announced we watched as they proudly marched up to receive trophies, plaques and medals recognizing their status as the best in collegiate aviation. Out of over 400 competitors, only the top 20 positions are recognized and only the top 5 receive an award. So the countdown from number 20 to number one is both exiting and nerve-wracking. When results of the message drop were announced we counted down until number 5 when Titus Dinkins and David Garcia were called to receive their award! This is a first for SDCC. We received 15 points for MD and later when Paul Martin was named
number 15 in the IFR event, we received 5 more points. It may be the first time an SDCC pilot has ever scored points in national competition.
The standings will be published in a few weeks and it will be interesting to see how SDCC moved up in national rankings because of the team’s performance this year!
So congratulations to David, Titus and Paul – and to the rest of the team members who worked so hard and came so close but were not officially recognized.
On Sunday the team will fly down to Metropolis on the Wabash river near Paducah KY to get some rest and plan the long trip home.
Friday – Contestants were advised the weather was going to delay the message drop event which is the most exciting and fun event of the competition. We met at the hangar at 10am but thunderstorms surrounded the field. Still, there was a lull where the judges felt we could complete one round - about 90 flights. We pushed the planes into position. But before we could launch, the judges wisely changed their minds and delayed due to cells moving in our direction faster than anticipated. You could feel the booms in the distance and see the lightning working it’s way towards the airport with intermittent ground strikes illuminating the darkening sky.
We returned the airplanes to the line and tied them down tight. One line of t-storms passed by, then another. A new, more threatening line formed just west of Terre Haute. It contained severe thunderstorm warnings and a TORNADO warning. We were lucky enough to be able to hangar our SDCC planes in case of hail – but thankfully it was unnecessary. But the rain poured out of the sky unlike anything we see in SoCal.
As quickly as they come, they move away. Sun appeared at 5pm and we launched one round of message drop planes. If we get no further flying in Saturday, we can call the competition complete. Kyle Mayhugh and Jenna Sims flew in the first heat. Although they had a good drop for headwind, they missed on the crosswind by 200 feet. Closest to the target and probable winner was a 5-foot drop by one school. Message drop is flown at 200 feet and 100mph over the targets. Pilot and dropmaster must figure out the wind drift and drop their box upwind, on line with the wind and allow the drift to take it back on target. Since you can’t see the wind, it is particularly difficult if you are in the first heat because you have no time to discuss results from other teams and make adjustments.
We ended the day somewhat wet and a little discouraged, but pleased that Jenna was able to fly – since, as a “Penguin” - she is not a rated pilot yet and is only eligible to fly as a dropmaster in the message drop event.
The team then headed off to Rose-Hulman college for showers. We met Mathew Belden’s father Paul at Ichiban Japanese restaurant for dinner. Mr. Belden generously treated the team to an excellent hibachi-style dinner. To relax, they then went to the Robin Hood movie with the team from San Jose State University.
Thursday evening our team met with members of LeTourneau University and Liberty University for prayer and fellowship. I attended the President’s Reception but joined the prayer session in progress. It was rejuvenating to see all the competitors sharing bible verses, having fun, telling jokes and just enjoying the fellowship. It has now become a tradition to get together with our Christian colleagues during the week of competition.
Saturday is also forecast to be overcast and rainy, but with ceilings high enough to attempt more message drop rounds. Teams will meet at 9am and try for 2 more rounds before the cut-off at noon. The afternoon will include business meetings and scoring by the judges for the awards banquet Saturday night at Indiana State University.
Our plan is to leave Sunday for Metropolis Illinois, do our planning for flying back West, and depart early Monday for San Diego. If all goes well, we should be home late Tuesday. Please pray for mechanical integrity for the airplanes, for good weather, light winds and a safe flight.
Thursday. Day started sunny and clear – but that changed quickly and Terre Haute now stands on the edge of a huge rain front due to hit this afternoon. Meanwhile Navigation events launched at 7am after the 0600 brief. Mat Belden and Titus Dinkins started off but were disqualified after the planning phase due to a mis-read longitude number put the waypoint out of limits. Kyle Loenhorst and Dylan Jones finished but said their time was skewed by 40 knot tailwinds. Their time was not bad however as they were able to adjust their groundspeed. Their fuel use was within a half gallon of predicted which is very competitive. At this time Clayton Hawley and Aaron Varela are airborne hoping to finish before the rain hits.
Wednesday evening we enjoyed a meal with the First Baptist North church where the team is lodging. SDCC presented a card from President Paul Ague, signed by all the team members, to Pastor Mobey and Lyn Cunning who managed all the volunteers. Tonight the team will meet with the pilots from LeTourneau University and Liberty University for prayer and fellowship. We ask that you pray for our return trip as the weather between Indiana and California is forecast to be unstable over the next week.
|Tuesday – Started out sunny but quickly turned cold, cloudy and windy. We started with power-off spot landings. Titus Dinkins was first, followed by Mat Belden, Kyle Mayhugh, Kyle Loenhorst and David Garcia. Conditions were blustery. The first two heats were inconsistent with unpredictable winds. The last three were all in “the box” which means they were scored for points.
The day was complete at 5pm. The team took showers at the Rose-Hulman college gym and were treated by members of the First Baptist church to an excellent BBQ dinner at Rick’s Smokehouse.
Wednesday – With weather a “moving target” we changed the schedule to get the short-field (powered) spot landings in before more predicted rain. Titus was in the first heat, followed by Mat, Kyle, Kyle and David. Most of our landings today were competitive. We won’t know the score until the computer program runs on Saturday so we can’t know for sure how we did or how we compare to our colleagues.
Aaron Varela and Titus Dinkins presented our safety presentation for the American Airlines Safety Award. Both did exceedingly well. Paul Martin was our entry in the “IFR” event – flying a simulator through a pre-programmed instrument (IFR) scenario. Paul believes he did well in that competition. Mat Belden and David Garcia competed in the “CRM” or Crew Resource Management event which tests how well pilots can “crew” a multi-piloted aircraft through a scenario developed to challenge crews.
Tomorrow (Thursday) will be an early start (0600) - due to threatening weather forecast for later in the afternoon. They are planning to finish either the Navigation event or the Message Drop – the final two flying events in the competition. There are several other event planned for Friday.
After “work” this afternoon, Pastor Mark Tobey and his congregation hosted the team at the church with a meal and an opportunity to fellowship and introduce our team. We shared a slide show of pictures we’ve taken so far – some of which are shared on the website here. The church members have been so incredibly gracious to your SDCC Flight Team. We cannot thank them enough for the accommodations, the vehicle, the meals and the opportunity to share our experience with them.
||Sunday May 16 was a practice day. Our pilots in landing events practiced power off and short-field spot landings while others practiced for ground events and simulator events. The weather was overcast and drizzling most of the day. Pilots not involved in practice went to church at First Baptist where Pastor Mark Tobey featured SDCC pilots and officially welcomed us to their service.
Monday marked the beginning of competition. Cloudy, rainy, windy – didn’t matter, it was all inside today. After the opening ceremonies, David Garcia, Mat Belden, Titus Dinkins, Aaron Varela and Paul Martin competed in the aviation Computer Accuracy event. Using an “E6B” computer, pilots solved navigation problems in a one hour written exam. Later Kyle Loenhorst, Aaron Varela, Kyle Mayhugh, Clayton Hawley and Titus Dinkins competed in the Aircraft Identification event where a series of various aircraft from around the world are displayed for 3 seconds while students write down the type of aircraft, manufacturer, and country of origin. The final event was “SCAN” - which is a comprehensive navigation exam where navigation problems are solved under a time constraint. SCAN team was led by team captain David Garcia, Mathew Belden, Kyle Loenhorst, Titus Dinkins and Clayton Hawley. SCAN is recognized as the most difficult exam of the competition.
Today is coach and former team captain Mat Belden’s birthday so it has become a tradition to take Mathew out for sushi dinner on the Monday of SAFECON competition. This is Mathew’s final year to compete and we wish him well. He has been such a great asset to our team over the past couple years.
|Saturday was threatening as well so the team filed instrument flight plans once again and headed north to Terre Haute, just east of a line of storms. Though it was cloudy and rainy, the weather was benign and we had no trouble getting into the Hulman airport where the national championships are held.
We refueled the planes in the rain and were able to get a couple practice flights in for spot landings before they shut flying down at 6pm.
We were met by our hosts from the First Baptist Church of North Terre Haute, courtesy of Frank and Lynn Cunning and Pastor Mark Tobey:
First Baptist offered to host SDCC’s Flight Team. Little did we know how generous and gracious that offer was. When the team arrived at the church, they had stocked the kitchen and refrigerator, provided mattresses and rooms to sleep in and loaned us a large van to transport pilots and gear back and forth all week. On their website they sought volunteers to cook meals, and provide for us in any way we needed. We are so grateful to the First Baptist church for all they have done.
Thursday May 13, 9 students took off from Gillespie Field for the 1500 mile trip to Terre Haute. Four airplanes departed with Mathew Belden, David Garcia, Titus Dinkins, Kyle Loenhorst, Aaron Varela, Kyle Mayhugh, Clayton Hawley, Paul Martin, Dylan Jones, and Jenna Sims. With stops in Winslow AZ and Tuccumcari NM, the team landed in Hinton Oklahoma – near Oklahoma City just before dark. We covered nearly 1000 miles the first day.
Friday dawned windy, cloudy, and rainy. The team took off for Kansas City to avoid thunderstorms though it was several hundred miles out of our way to the north. Refueled and refreshed with lunch, we flew north across the storm path in the clear and landed in Metropolis Illinois. Yes, Metropolis is the home of Superman and the team could not resist having their picture taken at the Superman statue downtown – just before dinner and a good night’s sleep at the home of Coach Mathew Belden’s father, Paul.